Fantastic Four

Cast:
Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing
Jessica Alba as Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman
Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch
Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom
Kerry Washington as Alicia Masters
Stan Lee as Mailman Willie Lumpkin
Maria Menounos as Nurse

Summary:
Fantastic Four features a fun cast and some great humor, but plot holes and occasional campiness keep it from being the movie comic fans have been waiting for. It’s still entertaining and well worth checking out, though.

Story:
Fantastic Four is based on the long running comic book from Marvel.

Looking to investigate a cosmic phenomenon approaching Earth, scientist Reed Richards and his colleagues set up their experiments at a space station owned by industrialist Victor Von Doom. Accompanying Richards are pilot and astronaut Ben Grimm, geneticist and Von Doom executive Sue Storm, her brother and pilot Johnny Storm, and Victor Von Doom himself. However, the crew is accidentally irradiated by the mysterious cosmic storm and they find their DNA altered. They are also given strange new powers.

Reed Richards finds that his body has become elastic and can stretch in impossible ways. Sue Storm gains the ability to turn invisible and generate force fields. Johnny Storm becomes the Human Torch and can manipulate fire and fly. Unfortunately, Ben Grimm is turned into the monstrous Thing. He is super strong, but his body is turned rocky and orange. But how was Victor Von Doom transformed by the accident?

Through a series of accidents, Reed and the team become celebrities and the media dubs them the Fantastic Four. But despite their newfound fame as superheroes, this oddball family has its fair share of problems. Reed can’t pay his bills. Sue is frustrated by Reed’s inability to express his love for her. Johnny gets swept away by his celebrity status. Ben desperately pushes Reed to find a way to cure him. Meanwhile, Victor Von Doom uses this discord to tear his former colleagues apart and get revenge for the failure of his corporation. Will the Fantastic Four survive his scheming?

The Fantastic Four is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some suggestive content.

What Worked:
I’ve been a Fantastic Four fan for over 25 years. I’ve read a majority of the FF comics and I’ve long had a mental image of what I was looking for in an FF movie. The good news is that this Fantastic Four film manages to capture a lot of what made the comics appealing. The bad news is that the final product isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

The movie does take a number of liberties with the comic in order to bring it to the big screen. Their origin is different, their powers are tweaked, Alicia Masters is black, Von Doom woos Sue Storm, etc etc etc. However, most of these changes are relatively minor and the true spirit of the comic is still here. It’s kind of a mix of the classic Fantastic Four comics and the new Ultimate FF comics (which are re-imagined versions of the original tales). For example, they tie the origin of Doctor Doom in with the origin of the FF. They also make Doctor Doom into an organic / metallic character that can shoot lightning rather than just making him a burned guy in a suit of armor. Despite this, they still give him his trademark mask, make him a character from Latveria, etc. It’s still generally faithful to the comics.

One of the things they nailed perfectly with this movie is the interaction between The Thing and Johnny Storm. The rivalry and horseplay between the two is straight from the comics. Johnny mercilessly plays jokes on Ben and makes fun of him. I particularly liked a scene where Johnny harasses Thing with an action figure of himself. These moments are the true highlights of the film.

I think the casting of the FF movie was very well done. Chris Evans is probably best of all as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch. He’s cocky, immature, and a real daredevil just like in the comics. Evans perfectly portrays that spirit of the character. And when he finally jumps off a building and yells “Flame On”, it’s one of those geek moments that comics fans will love. It also happens to be one of the best action scenes in the entire film as he tries to outrace a heat seeking missile. Michael Chiklis is also great as Ben Grimm/The Thing. I have to admit that I always thought The Thing should be CG, but the makeup works pretty effectively in the movie. Chiklis brings the perfect attitude and surliness to the character. You sympathize with him as he has to adjust to life with his new rocky body. He breaks cups, bites off forks, and generally has a lot of problems that make him miserable. Ioan Gruffudd makes a good Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. They do a few fun tricks with his elastic powers like squashing his face on a keyboard, changing his facial features, and other things. They also do trademark tricks like having him wrap up Thing to restrain him and acting like a slingshot. You also have Jessica Alba as Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman. She wasn’t my first choice for the role, but I thought she did a good job. She has multiple roles in the film as the mother of the team, Johnny Storm’s sister, and a love interest for Richards. Alba handles them all well. Finally, there’s Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom. He’s handsome as Victor and his smooth voice coming from the evil looking mask makes him all the more intimidating. Also be sure to look for another cameo by Stan Lee as Mailman Willie Lumpkin.

In the end I found Fantastic Four to be entertaining, but not quite as good as it could have been. I desperately want to see more Fantastic Four movies, but I’m not sure this one is going to be strong enough to get more sequels off the ground.

What Didn’t Work:
Ironically, one of the greatest strengths of Fantastic Four is its greatest weakness. Humor has always been a trademark of the comic and the movie does its best to capture that. When it does it, like in the case of the horseplay between Thing and Torch, it does it well. But there are times where it ventures well into the realm of camp. For example, as a fire truck nears certain doom, a Dalmatian in the cab covers its eyes with its paw. Ugh. In another scene, a pigeon poops on The Thing. In another scene, Thing burps after a big meal. The only thing missing was a fart joke. This kind of stuff drags the movie down.

Another major problem was a whole subplot with Ben Grimm and his fiancée. After being transformed into Thing, he goes home to meet her. She runs out into the street to see him…in her lingerie. Huh? A short time later she shows up at the scene of a major accident on the Brooklyn Bridge in order to give Thing a ring back…which she lays on the ground where he can’t pick it up. Huh again? It was silly without trying to be.

Parts of the plot were also kind of weak. For example, Ben Grimm spends the entire movie desperately wanting to be turned human again, but when Reed offers to change him back at the end, he says something like, “Awww…don’t worry about it.” It didn’t make sense. There are a number of other plot holes throughout the film, but you get the point.

I have to mention that I didn’t care for the music by John Ottman. There was no discernable FF theme in the movie and it frequently sounded like a score from a TV show. The soundtrack was very weak. The special effects were also a mixed bag. The Human Torch looked wonderful, but the shots around the space station and during the final battle didn’t look quite as impressive. Against other summer films, the FF effects don’t hold up.

The Bottom Line:
Fantastic Four is not the comic book movie that fans have been waiting for, but it is still somewhat entertaining. While the overall product could have been better, they still manage to catch a lot of the magic from the comics.

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